A federal tax claw back of council members’ pay led to a lively debate in North Cowichan’s council meeting on April 4.
The discussion began after Coun. Al Seabring made a motion asking that staff prepare a report on the implications of a new federal rule under which elected members in Canada’s municipalities will soon be required to pay taxes for the first time on the approximately 30 per cent of their salaries that had been tax-exempt.
Coun. Joyce Behnsen said she’s not at the table for the money and if councillors were, many would be paid less than minimum wage for all the hours they put in.
Each councillor in North Cowichan makes approximately $21,865 in base salary and benefits per year, while the mayor makes $59,869.
“The amount of pay we receive was never intended to be a full-time wage because what we do is a public service,” Behnsen said.
“I’m here to make North Cowichan a better place, and I’d be here even if my pay was nothing. This exercise makes us look self serving.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said she’s amazed at how much time is required of each councillor in the municipality to do their jobs.
She said she’d like to see more young people at the table, but they have more financial responsibilities than many seniors which prevents them from participating in such a time-consuming endeavour.
“It’s a noble thought to do this for free, but it’s just not practical,” Marsh said.
“If Coun. Behnsen doesn’t want her stipend, then I suggest she find a homeless person to give it to. There is no better time than now for us to look at this as we have municipal elections this fall. If we chose to move forward with any changes and the public is not for it, then we’ll soon be gone.”
Coun. Tom Walker said he believes council members remuneration should be examined periodically.
He said council members’ pay and benefits should be comparable to other communities of the same size.
“In my time on council, the community has grown and the work load has tripled and grown more complex and I’d like to see people who care about all that are fairly compensated for the work required,” Walker said.
“I want to see that we receive no more than any other community our size, but no less. We are not a second-class community and our pay should be equal.”
Siebring said a comparative study of remuneration with other communities has not been conducted in North Cowichan for 10 years so one is needed.
“I agree that no one is here for the money, but we have to be realistic,” he said.
“I’ve talked to young people about running for council but they say they have to focus on feeding their kids. The municipality ends up stuck with old people like me. Voting ourselves a raise might not be popular, but we won’t know if that would be considered until we see a report.”
Coun. Rob Douglas said he has already done some research on how much council members in other municipalities make and the remuneration is within range.
“We shouldn’t expect much of a pay raise as a result of this report,” he said.
Coun. Maeve Maguire said it’s a privilege to serve on council, but it’s a fact that much of the responsibility for raising her young children has been left to her husband while she works on council issues.
“It’s a sacrifice,” she said with her voice breaking with emotion.
“It’s a very demanding position and I want the public to be educated on what this role is all about. If we were able to pay council members appropriately for their work, we’d be able to attract good people.”
The motion for the staff report was passed, with Behnsen opposed.